The Caucasian Ovcharka (Mountain Dog) : A Perspective Written for the United States
by Marina Kuznetsova, Judge-Expert Native Russian Breeds - Leningrad
The Caucasian Ovcharka is a dog belonging to the Mastiff group and is found in the area of the Caucasian Mountains and the region before the Caucasian Mountains. In general, the breed can be distinguished into 2 types--the mountain types and steppe types, and within these two groups there are several distinguishable subtypes. There are many versions about the origins of this breed and I cannot lend support to any particular version except to say that I consider them a natural breed. The first reference about this dog was made before the second century A.D. in a manuscript of antiquity of the Armenish people. In the Azerbaijan mountain area I have seen pictures carved in stone of dogs drawn very tall and powerful. In addition, folk tales and folk legends often make mention of large shaggy dogs which saved their owners from various dangers. No one can confirm the exact origin of these dogs.
The first Caucasians in Leningrad appeared approximately in the early 1960s and were registered in the book of the Dog Working Club and in show catalogs during this time. Possibly single representatives migrated earlier to Leningrad and probably in different areas of the Soviet Union also, but were not registered with the kennel clubs in Leningrad. The first aboriginal dogs were of clear conformation and very good quality and some breeders have tried to preserve this. In addition, Russia has endured many hardships during the beginning of 20th century, WWI, The Revolution and WWII. These have been hungry and destructive times during which people could barely care for their children and could not devote care to their dogs resulting in a hard natural selection of working dogs.
I have traveled many times to the Azerbaijan area, and I can describe the attitude of the Caucasian people toward their dogs. Their dogs are kept outside and can be differentiated into three groups used for different purposes- herding dogs, guarding dogs and fighting dogs. The herding dogs must be steady, hardy, not spiteful to people and domestic animals but with the ability hurry up the lone sheep with a nip at the hinds legs. These dogs must protect the flock against wolves. Although the herder sometimes gives the dogs leftover food, he usually does not feed them, so the dogs must hunt small animals such as mice and rabbits in the area they are guarding. Usually a herder has five or six dogs of which four are males and one or two are females. The bitches season approximately once a year or every eight to eleven months. They most often come into season in the fall and whelp on the outside in a lair. The herder leaves only males and one or two females and destroys the other females of the litter. Usually only twenty percent of the puppies survive to adulthood because nobody feeds and takes care of them. Only the healthiest puppies can survive.
In the Caucasus, there is no custom of selling dogs so Caucasian people only give dogs as presents to close friends. They often keep the puppies for themselves because most of the dogs in the Caucasus cannot live to an old age and new replacements are always needed. Some herders try to breed the best males and some of them know the pedigrees of males in their heads.
Guarding dogs who protect the house differ from the herding dogs because of their extreme aggressiveness towards strangers, but as a rule they respect and listen to their owner. Although the dogs are not aggressive towards the people who live in the house they obey only one master. These dogs do not bark alot and will attack strangers who enter the protected area. However, outside the protected area the dogs can be walked off leash and are usually not aggressive with non-threatening strangers.
The fighting dogs are destined for dogs fighting. Only wealthy people can keep these dog and they gamble on the dog fights. Caucasian mountain people are very superstitious and they keep this dog under lock and key. You can get puppies from these dogs or you can look upon their dogs at home only if you are close friends with the owner. I have seen some such dogs but the owners prohibit them from being photographed because of the superstition of the "evil eye" that the dog will fall ill and die.
All Caucasians are distinguishable from other breeds because of their extreme faithfulness to their owner and their excellent memories. It is not good custom to give an adult dog to another person. If you get a two or three month old puppy, this puppy will remember his breeder for a long time.
There are two types of Caucasians in Azerbaijan - the steppe type and mountain type. The Caucasian from the steppe of Azerbaijan has a dryer constitution with a flat skull and more square body, and is leggy and smaller boned. Light coloration predominates such as fawn, white with patches, and this dog has a shorter coat. The mountain type is heavier. The head has very developed cheekbones. This dog has a longer body, higher withers, and a wider and deeper chest than the steppe type of Azerbaijan. But, anyway the mountain Azerbaijan type is dryer than the Georgian type. The mountain Azerbaijan type has a shorter neck than the Georgian type with flatter skull with a slightly longer muzzle with more developed cheekbones.
Sometimes the Azerbaijan steppe and mountain head types look similar to a Middle Asian Ovcharka and I suppose that in deep antiquity many hundreds of year ago the types interbred because the herders in these areas traveled back and forth. Now the two breeds are clearly distinct and are not interbred.
The Caucasian of Georgian type is distinguished by their "bear view". There is no steppe type in Georgia because there is no steppe region in Georgia. The Caucasians of this type are very popular in Leningrad. The first brought were powerful and well-boned. They have a shorter muzzle than the Azerbaijan type with a slighter stop. This head looks like the head of a bear. The coat is predominantly long, sometimes of intermediate length. Unfortunately this type is practically lost in Georgian Republic. Georgian people have changed their lifestyle and sheep are no longer widespread. The people became enthusiastic about genetics and tried to improve the breed and they began to mix native Caucasians with the German Shepherd and Great Dane. According to the article by Kaverin in the Soviet magazine Ogonek, in 1987 the situation of the Caucasian breed was described as very deplorable. Only twenty percent of the entire population of Caucasians which live with herders today can be confirmed as pure!
It is more difficult to describe the Daghestan type of Caucasian. Because some people of this nation were removed in other areas of the U.S.S.R. before and during WWII, during Stalin's time, most of the dog population was lost with them. The people later returned to Daghestan and to shepherding and the Caucasian is now utilized like before. During the last three years in Leningrad, a few Caucasians were brought from Daghestan. Some of them were medium sized, some of them were lighter boned but some were beautiful representatives of the breed. They produced offspring better than themselves but sometimes they also produced cryptorchism, underbites and missing teeth. The herders in Daghestan do not pay attention to these "details" so it is very dangerous sometimes to buy an aboriginal dog from Daghestan because you never know what you will end up with. However, If you get a dog from Daghestan and breed it with other established bloodlines, the offspring will be considerably more precious than the aboriginal dog. This holds true for subsequent generations as well.
In Russian areas, the best and most famous population was concentrated in big cities - Moscow, Leningrad, Ivanovo, Nizhniy Novgrod, Pierm. The dogs were used for guarding factories and storehouses. They were kept in kennels and were shown at the Agricultural Fair of the U.S.S.R about thirty years ago as an achievement of the Soviet national farmer. In present time, there are many different signal systems in these factories so the population of Caucasians in factories have been greatly reduced, and part of the best populations in the big city kennels have been lost.
Moscow people were very enthusiastic about making the Caucasian a larger dog. The famous military kennel Red Star in Moscow mixed the Caucasian with the St. Bernard and the Newfoundland, trying to create new breeds based on the Caucasian. However, in my estimation they were unsuccessful at creating anything of value! These mixed breeds were bred in Moscow as Caucasian purebreds. The cross breeding produced increased height at the wither, a jowly look to the head, and an unbalanced nervous system. These dogs are huge with a somewhat soft wavy coat (a disqualification because the Caucasian must have a straight, offstanding coat), and they bark excessively without cause. However, a few dogs were saved in Moscow having an old purebred bloodline, offspring of the famous dog Leman, which are now considered very precious in breeding. Other breeders from all over Russia who try to preserve the breed often utilize this bloodline. In Dnieperpetrovsk, the modern center of dog business, the Caucasians are predominantly of Moscow breeding.
In Leningrad, Caucasian breeding was built on a few outstanding male bloodlines. Now we have a lot of dog clubs, some of which breed without rules. However, a group of us has preserved the best bloodlines. For example, two old and famous bloodlines of Leman and Reshad which produced outstanding offsprings. In Leman lines we have two excellent stud dogs, Zulat in Leningrad and Osman in Moscow, on which linebreeding has produced very precious offspring. For example, the combination sire Osman and dam Chara. The dogs of this bloodline are very strong with a longer coat than other lines. We have photographs of the best representative of this bloodline - Zulat, Yulay, Belara, Tzirga. I prefer the Reshad line because of their heavier and more rugged appearance. Our stud dog from this line, Raja, has produced two famous offspring in combination with Jaconda. They are stud dogs Frant and Furt. Furt produces offspring which are a little more jowly and sometimes with hind legs a little long in hock and thigh. Frant produces outstanding quality offspring which are the best representatives at dog shows and these offspring are good producers also. Furt and Frant are in different clubs in Leningrad resulting in different breeding between the clubs. I have a grandaughter of Frant named Patimat, and she is a champion of the Baltic Republics.
Also, we have another bloodline in Leningrad named Amur. Amur is a beautiful Caucasian representative who produces very well but who has not yet produced offspring who are better than himself.
We have another male brought from the Georgian Republic by the name of Dato. Dato was used widely as stud but he died at age 4 from an accident. He produced two excellent stud dogs, Pharaon and Norris, which are used in breeding and are very popular in the Caucasian fancy.
During the 1980s, Hanka's family was created. Unfortunately most of her offspring died of parvo virus infection and now we have only a few dogs from this family.
These are only a few examples Leningrad bloodlines. Although I would like to describe all the dogs which are worthy to use in breeding because of their excellent conformation, practically I would have to write an entire book on this.
I am so sad that in general, breeding in the U.S.S.R. has no professional basis. People who do not understand the breed, casual breeders and those people with only a commercial interest to sell puppies are responsible for this. If somebody has dogs with major faults and is prohibited from breeding in one club, these people go to another club with lower standards and they breed in this club and produce garbage. Excuse me please for these words about people from my country but it is very shameful and it hurts me when you have in dog shows in another country and in America abominable Caucasians and you get a bad opinion about the breed when you see these dogs. For example, sometimes a dog who is the winner in Poland would only receive fair marks in Leningrad.
In general, the Caucasian is distinguished for its beautiful character and well-balanced nervous system. It is better to use them for guarding service but I know one man who hunts with Caucasians for wild pigs very successfully! Don't force train the Caucasian like the German Shepherd because if you do the Caucasian will lose its natural charm. Treat your Caucasian with love and patience and you will get the best friend and protector, fearless and faithful, who will stand by you through anything and everything.
(c)1991 Marina Kuznetsova, Translation (c)1991 The Caucasian Ovcharka (Mountain Dog) Club of America, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Editor's Note - C.O.C.A. is deeply grateful for Marina Kuznetsova's time, effort, information, and dedication to the breed. Thank you !